Blind Consumption

I was down in D.C. last Friday when the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act first went into effect instituting a 5-cent fee on each disposable plastic or paper bag issued in the District.

The money is to go to cleaning up the Anacostia River (which badly needs it), but the main goal for the law is to change consumer behavior.

Although skeptics abound, I’m excited to see the outcome. Sure, five cents, isn’t much, but I think it’s enough to make people stop and think about their consumption.

With so much on our minds, we need a little encouragement. I happened to care a lot about clogged rivers and tributaries—and the environment more generally—but I find it hard without a little nudge to change my daily routines.

Today, on the way home from buying some books, I stopped into CVS for a half-gallon of milk and some cereal (see picture). When I got home I found that I’d been given eight bags to carry the three items (see picture)! (Somewhat ironically, the Washington CVS stores recently partnered with the D.C. Department of Environment to provide 112,000 free reusable bags to customers in the metropolitan area.  Hopefully, they haven’t been handing them out eight at a time.)

This needs to change and I, for one, would welcome the adoption of a similar law in my hometown.  Would you?


On a side note, for those art and film lovers out there, there is a tremendous short film, Next Floor, engaging the theme of overconsumption, being shown until April 11, 2010 at the Hirshhorn Gallery in D.C. The film garnered the creator and producer, Phoebe Greenberg, the award for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. I highly recommend it.

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7 Responses

  1. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Three cheers for DC (for a change!). My neighbors there and I are skipping the bags for smallish purchases (like milk and cereal!) and using canvas bags (like the one’s Trader Joes’s gave us all years ago) for everything else. I also live part time in NYC where we are trying to follow the same pattern. It is not hard and will save considerable costs.

  2. Matt says:

    In high-school and a bit of college I worked in a grocery story. Among my jobs was bagging groceries so now it always drives me crazy when I go to the story and the clerk puts only 3 or 4 items in a bag. I usually try to bag the items myself when I can. But if this encourages people to use fewer bags, or better to use reusable bags, it will be great. In addition to the canvas bags, trader joes sells a bag made from recycled material that is very light, can easily fit in a jacket pocked when folded, and is strong, for something like a dollar. Such things are well worth it.
    (I first saw stores charge for bags when I lived in Russia. The price was small but noticeable enough that people often took bags with them, including reusing old bags. I rather liked it once I thought of it a bit.)

  3. Joe says:

    I try to use reusable bags whenever I can. It’s funny, though, how not everyone is aware of the problems that plastic bags from grocery stores pose. I went shopping with a my dad a few weeks ago and dutifully pulled my reusable bags from the trunk of my car. On seeing the bags, my dad made sure to tell me that the store we were walking into had their own bags to carry groceries in!

  4. Managing Board says:

    I think most retailers other than grocers simply do not teach bagging. When I buy groceries at a grocery store, the bagging is careful and efficient. When I go to a discount store (Target, Walmart, etc.), the clerk stuffs one or two items in each bag.

  5. I love the plastic bags and would even consider purchasing them at the store…but not if the funds go straight to government. I know you liberals love the idea of changing human behaviour – because you usually do know best – but what if this impacts on following Steve Martin’s advice?

    “Never, I mean, always keep a trash bag in your car; this way when its full you can throw it out the window.”

  6. Adam Benforado says:

    Thanks for the personal anecdotes – all interesting! I’m hoping Philadelphia follows D.C.’s lead.

    A friend of mine who is a lawyer in D.C. saw the post and emailed me to bemoan the fact that he can’t just pay the D.C. government $50 bucks a year and not have to be asked if he would like to purchase a bag every time he goes into a store. I told him that, given the amount of money involved, I thought that the repeated “asking” was the whole point behind the law – to raise consciousness – but that I’d be happy to take the $50 in exchange for not blogging any more on the topic.

  7. jimf says:

    Most plastic grocery bags need to be double bagged to carry any weight or your grocries will fall through the bottom.

    I find plastic grocery bags very useful at home to dispose of cat litter twice a week or so…I find the paper grocery bags very useful for the recycling bucket every week…I have some reusable bags at home, but prefer to receive the paper and plastic bags so that I can reuse them.